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D.C. Principal to Get Leadership Award

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

The principal of a Washington charter school was scheduled to get a surprise this afternoon when a national education group swooped in to give her a leadership award.

The Accelerate Institute, a Chicago-based organization that promotes school leadership and efforts to close achievement gaps among students, planned to present its annual Ryan Award to Shantelle Wright, the founder and head of school at Achievement Prep Academy Public Charter School,in a surprise assembly with her students. She joins Ben Marcovitz, the founder of Sci Academy in New Orleans and James Troupis,the founding principal of Gary Comer College Prep in Chicago, who won the award in its first year.

Wright's Achievement Prep is a top-rated public charter school with a student population that is 100 percent African American. Eighty-six percent of the school's students are low-income. Over the past three years, the school improved its students' English/Language Arts proficiency scores on the District of Columbia exam by 13 percent—15 percent more than the average growth rate for the district, which is -2 percent.

The other winners' schools saw similar gains. At Marcovitz's Sci Academy in the New Orleans Recovery School District, where 70 percent of the class of students who came to the school in 2008 were reading three years below grade level, 95 percent of the class later graduated with acceptance letters to a four-year college.

Ninety-one percent of Troupis' students at Gary Comer College Prep received free or reduced price lunch. Yet, from its first freshman class, 100 percent enrolled in college after graduating.

The Accelerate Institute, formerly called the Alain Locke Initiative, focuses on encouraging high-impact leadership as a means of closing the achievement gap.

With the Ryan Award, the institute aims to celebrate the hard work that is school leadership, not only in charters, but in all of the nation's schools. In addition to a $25,000 honorarium, winners will act as guest lecturers at the Accelerate's summer institute at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, where they will work with and teach rising principals.

Robert J. Birdsell, the chief executive officer of Accelerate Institute, said: "We believe that the greatest way to close the achievement gap is through leadership. The greatest bottleneck we face is the dearth of leadership talent. To help change that, we should highlight the great leaders that are out there."

The number one characteristic that the Accelerate Institute looks for in its Ryan Award nominees is the ability to maintain a lasting period of growth in student achievement.

"A school can get growth over a year or two, but [maintaining growth] over time is the real driver," said Birdsell.

Culture was also an area of importance. Birdsell said that they sought principals who helped cultivate a positive school culture—one in which students were as excited to be in school as their principal was.

Even though it was not a required characteristic of nominees, all three of this year's winners were charter school leaders. Birdsell attributed this to the increased autonomy that charter school leaders have and their enhanced abilities to hire and fire the staff that make up their team.

The work of all three winners will be highlighted in depth during a dinner in Chicago on September 26.

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